Rain hits Easter weekend sales for garden centres

Heavy rain rather than hosepipe bans brings reports of poor trade over Easter holiday weekend but retailers remain upbeat.

The impact of hosepipe bans was clouded over the Easter weekend as trade failed to live up to expectations, with rain washing out sales of plants.

Last year was a record Easter for many, but Squire's managing director Dennis Espley said of the long weekend: "It was very poor, about 33 per cent down against particularly good figures last year, (because of) disappointing weather and ironically much-needed rain."

He added: "Sales in the cafe were quite good and some garden furniture. Sales in outside areas were particularly badly hit.

"We've had bad Easters before, it's the whole season that counts. We just need to keep our stock levels, standards and customer service up to customers' expectations."

He added that calendar year-to-date figures were "pretty cheering", up eight per cent like-for-like. The Garden Centre Association said March was eight per cent up.

Garden Centre Group regional manager Peter Burks said: "The week running up to Easter Saturday was pretty decent but Easter Monday was down because it rained all day. We opened the restaurants on Easter Sunday and that was quite good, but so frustrating you can't sell anything else to customers. They almost feel sorry for us."

"Plant sales aren't so good compared to this time last year, when we were in the middle of a lovely spell of weather. Furniture is going well - we have the fullest range for some time and it's out earlier.

"Easter Monday is historically our biggest day of the year, but it wouldn't be this year. It was only the weather to blame - the week leading up went well."

Norfolk-based Baytree Nurseries owner Reinhard Biehler said the hosepipe ban had yet to hit sales but "the plant side was much slower because of the rain". He expected that bedding sales would fall but he had introduced a drought-tolerant plant display.

David Norman, owner of Abercorn Garden Centre in Essex, said four days of rain had made more of an impact than nearby hosepipe bans, while Coolings managing director Gary Carvosso said there was "no record broken this year". Easter Monday was a "washout" although "resilient gardeners" braved the showers, he added.

Carvosso said he "would like to think" the industry had learnt since the hosepipe bans of 2006, with better education of customers, better ranges of water butts, drip irrigation and drought-tolerant plants helping to alleviate plant losses.

Millbrook Garden Centre managing director Tammy Woodhouse said Easter week sales were 20 per cent down on target, after April 2011 being its best month ever.

Key Stat

Percentage decline in Easter weekend sales reported by Squire's garden centres - 33%.

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